The USC men's water polo team stands two games away from a potential perfect season and a fifth straight national championship. What's more, the Trojans get to defend their titles at their own pool, as hosts of the 2012 National Collegiate Men's Water Polo Championships at McDonald's Swim Stadium for the first time in program history. Undefeated USC (27-0) carries 29 games of winning momentum in the tournament, dating back to the Trojans' run to the 2011 title, which cemented USC in history as the first-ever men's water polo team to win four consecutive national championships. The top seed in this 2012 NCAA tournament, USC opens up against No. 4 seed Air Force (19-10) at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Dec. 1). On the other side of the draw, No. 2 UCLA (27-4) faces No. 3 seed St. Francis Brooklyn (16-8) at 3:12 p.m. The drama culminates on Sunday (Dec. 2) with the third-place game set for 1 p.m. and the collision for the 2012 national championship on tap for 3:12 p.m. at the Trojans' own McDonald's Swim Stadium. All games will be STREAMED ONLINE by ncaa.com with Bill Cohn and Chris Dorst on the call. CLICK HERE for tickets.
USC opened 2012 as the No. 1 team in the land -- deference to the Trojans' historic four straight NCAA titles -- and has remained there all season long as teams now enter the 14th week of 2012 competition. UCLA is next in line at No. 2 this week, with Air Force ranked No. 10 and St. Francis Brooklyn at No. 11.
This is the first time in history that USC has hosted the NCAA Men's Water Polo Championships. Immediately following this 2012 tournament, USC's McDonald's Swim Stadium will undergo renovation to become the Uytengsu Aquatics Center, a project made possible by the largest gift to USC by a former student-athlete, swimmer Fred Uytengsu.
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
In 2011, USC was the top seed in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight season, having earned the at-large berth with a 22-3 overall record following a sudden-death loss to UCLA in the 2011 MPSF Tournament final. For the seventh straight season, USC led the nation in defense with 5.5 goals-against per game, and was also averaging 11.6 goals per game on the offensive end. Senior Peter Kurzeka was USC's top scorer entering the tournament with 38 goals followed by sophomore Nikola Vavic's 36. Senior goalie Joel Dennerley was averaging 9.0 saves and 5.5 goals-against per game. Overall USC had outscored opponents 290-138, having matched a program-best 21 different scorers, including nine different scorers with at least 15 goals entering the 2011 National Collegiate Championships, held in Berkeley, Calif. Top-seeded USC opened up with a 17-4 win over Princeton behind four-goal games from Kurzeka and Vavic. In the title match, USC faced crosstown rival UCLA, and the Trojans were in control throughout. Seven different Trojans scored in the 7-4 win over the Bruins to notch USC's historic fourth straight national championship and seventh overall. Dennerley was named the NCAA Tournament MVP, and was joined in All-Tournament honors by Peter Kurzeka and Nikola Vavic on the First Team and Jeremy Davie and Mace Rapsey on the Second Team.
USC is a perfect 27-0 entering the 2012 National Collegiate Championships, with the Trojans looking to complete just the second undefeated season in program history (last accomplished in 2008). USC earned the automatic bid into this year's tourney as the MPSF Tournament champion, capped by a 9-5 win over California in the final last weekend -- also held at McDonald's Swim Stadium. USC is currently 11-0 at home this season, holding a 27-game win streak overall at home dating back to an Oct. 16, 2010, loss to California. The NCAA title winners in 2009, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Trojans are making their 27th overall appearance in the national tournament. With five NCAA crowns claimed in the past seven seasons, USC has already made history as the the first men's water polo team ever to win four consecutive national championships. But USC is eager to add to that count and defend its home pool this weekend. To do so, USC will need to first reach its eighth consecutive NCAA title match -- a feat never before accomplished in men's water polo. Cal reached the final seven straight seasons from 1986-1992 and won five championships during that span, but no team has even reached eight straight title matches, let along won five in a row. For the eighth straight year, USC leads the nation in defense, averaging 5.67 goals-against per game. Offensively, USC averages 14.3 goals per game, led by junior Nikola Vavic's 79 goals -- third most in program history -- and 62 from sophomore Kostas Genidounias, who has doubled his freshman season total for a count that ranks as the seventh most in program history. In all, its the highest-powered offense ever for the trojans, who have scored 387 total goals to better the previous record of 382 set in 2010. Recently picked to the All-MPSF First Team, junior goalie James Clark is averaging 10.1 saves and 6.0 goals-against per game in his first season as a Trojan, having taken over for fellow Aussie Olympian Joel Dennerley, who graduated in 2011 as USC's all-time saves leader and the Peter J. Cutino Award winner. Overall, USC has outscored opponents 387-153 to date, including nine different scorers with at least 15 goals so far, and six different scorers averaging at least one goal per game. USC has averaged eight different scorers per game this season.
USC's semifinal opponent Air Force (19-10) is making its first NCAA appearance wince 1994, having qualified as the Western Water Polo Association champion. At-large team No. 2 seed UCLA (27-4) is in the National Collegiate Championships for the second straight season. The Bruins have won eight national championships overall, most recently in 2004. St. Francis Brooklyn (16-8) is the No. 3 seed, having qualified for the NCAA tournament as the Collegiate Water Polo Association champs for the first time since 2009.
THE MATCHUPS USC vs. Air Force
This season: 0-0
Last: W 16-5 (Sept. 6, 2009)
Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 13-3 (1986) USC vs. UCLA
This season: 2-0
Last: W 10-9 (Nov. 17, 2012)
Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 7-4 (2011 final) USC vs. St. Francis Brooklyn
This season: 1-0
Last: W 15-4 (Sept. 29, 2012)
Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 10-7 (2010 semi)
USC won its eighth MPSF Tournament title with a resounding 9-5 victory over California at McDonald's Swim Stadium last weekend. In order to secure the right to defend its four consecutive national championships, USC had to steal the conference crown away from an upset-minded Cal squad. The No. 4 seeded Bears had knocked out No. 2 UCLA in the semifinals while the Trojans held off No. 4 seeded Stanford 11-10 to earn the spot in the title match. But when the Trojans and the Bears tangled in the championship bout, USC's resolve and balance won out. Leading the pack on the scoring front for the first time this year was junior Mace Rapsey, who paired his usual savvy defense with four big goals for the Trojans. Senior Matt Burton would add a pair to the tally, while USC's high-powered guns Kostas Genidounias and Nikola Vavic also plugged in scores along with Connor Virjee. The Trojans led by as many as five goals in the really goings of the second half, up 6-1 as Rapsey completed his first hat trick of the year for USC. But the Bears woke up and made a rallying cry that pulled it to a two-goal game just ticks away from the fourth frame. The Trojan downturn didn't last any longer, however. After Genidounias popped a pass to Virjee at two meters, Virjee rocketed in the score to give USC an 8-5 lead early in the fourth. The Trojan defense took care of the rest, pitching its second shutout frame against the Bears to fend off any Cal hopes of a comeback. With goalie James Clark reigning supreme in the cage and Trojan field players coming up with key steals, USC would go on to add one more deft blast from Matt Burton at set for a turn and flip to the back of the net that put a 9-5 USC lead on the board for the duration.
A PERFECT FINISH
USC topped off its third undefeated regular season finish in program history with a 10-9 win over crosstown rival No. 2 UCLA on a rainy Saturday at McDonald's Swim Stadium. Senior Michael Rosenthal ripped in three huge goals for the Trojans to keep USC on pace to victory in its MPSF finale. As the only two undefeated teams in MPSF play, the match was the clincher for the top seed in the coming conference tourney. The pivotal nature of the game was clear from the start, as the teams tangled in driving rain throughout much of the match. The Bruins would take slim one-goal leads early the first period, but the Trojans were sparked by Rosenthal's scoring effort. He'd plug in a pair in the first frame, including the go-ahead goal that made it 3-2 after Zach Lucas had delivered a 6-on-5 equalizer for the Trojans. Rosenthal's panache for pulling the Trojans into the lead would come in handy late in the game, too. It was his bullet with 2:16 to go in regulation that broke a late tie and put USC ahead 9-8. Mace Rapsey's second of the day would be the decider as he struck with 31 ticks to go for a two-goal USC lead that would prove crucial after the Bruins managed one three seconds later. Up 10-9 with 28 seconds left, though, the Trojans could keep control of the ball for the final stretch as USC outlasted UCLA for the win. Rosenthal would go on to be named MPSF Player of the Week for the first time in the redshirt senior's career.
TAGTEAM BACK AGAIN Kostas Genidounias is a savvy sophomore now, and has showed now sign of a slump in the Greek import's second season at Troy. He and Nikola Vavic are arguably the most dangerous scoring tandem in the game, having combined for 36 percent of USC's scoring to date. A 2011 All-American and crowned an MPSF Player of the Week for the first time after an all-around impressive effort in a Trojan win over Cal this season, Genidounias has scored in all but two games this year and has pumped in 62 goals to date to double up on his freshman season total of 31.
The stingy USC defense has posted at least one shutout period in all but eight games this season. Only MPSF teams Pepperdine, Stanford, UC Irvine, Pacific, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA have managed to score in all four quarters of regulation, although the Cardinal were successfully silenced during overtime in USC's NorCal Tournament semifinal win earlier this season. In seven of USC's 27 games to date, the Trojans have held opponents scoreless in the third period of play. In all games, USC boasts 27 shutout periods during regulation play.
THE 400 CLUB
USC's 7-6 win over California on Sept. 23 was big, to be certain, but the biggest number that came out of the victory didn't show up anywhere on the scoresheet. The Trojans' nationally televised takedown of the Bears at McDonald's Swim Stadium was USC head coach Jovan Vavic's 400th career win with the Trojan men's program. His career mark on the men's side now stands at a daunting 418-64 (.867) thanks to USC's 27-0 run into the 2012 NCAA Tournament as the Trojans look to defend their unprecedented four straight national championships. The 400th victory was secured by none other than Vavic's own son, Nikola Vavic, whose goal with 1:38 remaining locked the Trojans in on the 7-6 comeback win over the Bears. Jovan Vavic is in his 18th season at the helm of the Trojan men, with whom he has won seven national championships to go along with three won in 18 seasons as the USC women's head coach, where he is 413-131 overall. A 10-time National Coach of the Year, Vavic has seen his Trojans and Women of Troy win 10 Peter J. Cutino Awards to go along with the 10 national championship trophies that adorn his office. In the 2012 London Olympic Games, Vavic had a total of 10 USC athletes competing for their countries. In his tenure at Troy, Vavic has a winning record against all opponents on the men's side, and the win in the Sept. 23 clash with Cal improved his personal record against the Bears to 36-12. Arguably the most decorated water polo coach in the nation, Vavic became the first coach ever to be named National Coach of the Year three years in a row back in 2010. Vavic was recently named the Interim Head Coach for the U.S. Men's National Team, and will lead Team USA in an attempt to qualify for the 2013 FINA World Championships at a qualification tournament in Canada.
As USC works into the home stretch of the 2012 season, 19 different Trojans have scored goals -- just two away from last year's grand total of 21 scorers. Led by 79 from Nikola Vavic and 62 from Kostas Genidounias to date, USC is flexing some serious scoring muscle in averaging an MPSF-best 14.33 goals per game. So far, USC is outscoring opponents 387-153, thanks to a Trojan defense averaging just 5.67 goals-against per game. USC leads the MPSF in both defense and offense to date. USC has now scored at least 300 goals for five straight seasons, and set a new program record for single-season goals with its current total of 387 entering the NCAA Tournament.
STRIVE FOR FIVE
Already in the history books as members of the first program to win four straight national championships, USC still boasts a group of Trojans who are looking for their fifth NCAA championship rings. Redshirt seniors Matt Burton, Michael Rosenthal and Andrew Reego have been at USC for the past four championship runs. And although their fellow four-peater Brian Boswell has been sidelined by medical issues for 2012, the Trojan veterans are aiming to once again roll to victory and grab an unprecedented fifth championship ring. Reego and Rosenthal were redshirts in 2008, when Burton competed as a true freshman. Burton was injured early in 2011, sidelined for the rest of the year but returning now as a captain again for the 2012 Trojans. Those three fifth-year players are part of a talented senior class that is rounded out by Tobias Preuss, who joined the Trojan roster as a sophomore in 2010.
100 AND COUNTING...
Junior Nikola Vavic hit the 100-goal mark in the first weekend of action, putting him on pace to blaze a trail toward the top of the USC career scoring list. Now with 169 goals to date with two games still to go in his junior season, Vavic is making a strong challenge for all-time leader Juraj Zatovic's top spot. Zatovic tallied 220 in his four seasons at Troy, which included two national championships (2003 & 2005). Vavic already has two NCAA titles in the books as he aims to lead the charge for the Trojans for 2012 and beyond. With 79 goals to date, he's well overtaken his previous season best of 49 scored as a freshman. Vavic has scored in every game for USC this year and has taken over at No. 4 all-time with 169 career goals thus far through his junior season. Vavic's 79 goals so far also ranks him at No. 3 all-time in single-season scoring -- just two away from the all-time record of 81 set in 1988 by Zoltan Berty.
The Trojan roster again boasts three standout players from Down Under. With the graduation of USC's all-time career saves leader Joel Dennerley, the Trojans have another Aussie goalie in newcomer James Clark -- also a 2012 Olympian alongside Dennerley. Returning Australian All-Americans Jeremy Davie and Mace Rapsey are also back in the water with plenty of championship experience for the Trojans, having been key members of the last two runs to NCAA glory. Davie and Rapsey have combined for 55 goals so far this season, and Clark has capped up in 17 games as he now averages 10.1 saves and 6.0 goals-against per game.
USC has arguably the most dominant goalkeeping tandem in the nation. With tag-team efforts at the NorCal and SoCal Tournaments, redshirt sophomore Ely Bonilla and newcomer James Clark are each averaging around 10 saves per game to help the Trojan defense allow just 5.67 goals per game. Although teammates for the first time this year, both goalies have had the distinction of playing behind four-time All-American, Cutino Award winner and Olympian Joel Dennerley. After redshirting the 2010 season, Bonilla was a backup to Dennerley in USC's run to the 2011 NCAA Championship, and Clark was Dennerley's capable understudy for Australia at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The 2011 Trojans never slipped farther than the No. 2 spot in the national rankings and wrapped up the year on top once again as USC made history as the first-ever men's water polo team to win four consecutive national championships. Behind a set of eight All-Americans, including National Player of the Year and Cutino Award winner Joel Dennerley, the Trojans finished 2011 with a 24-3 overall record after an 8-0 run through the MPSF regular season. In addition to Dennerley, senior Peter Kurzeka also finished up his Trojan career as a four-time NCAA champ and also with another set of All-American honors. Head coach Jovan Vavic was named National Coach of the Year, with six more Trojans on the All-America list: Jeremy Davie, Nikola Vavic, Kostas Genidounias, Tobias Preuss, Mace Rapsey and Michael Rosenthal. Kurzeka was USC's top scorer with 42 goals on the year, followed by Nikola Vavic with 41. In all, the Trojan offense -- charged by 21 different scorers -- averaged 11.6 goals per game, while the defense again led the nation with just 5.4 goals against per game. USC outscored opponents 314-146 in 2011.